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One Child, Remembered

One Child, Remembered

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Detail from ''A Jewish Child'' by Zalman Kleinman
Detail from "A Jewish Child" by Zalman Kleinman

In recollections of Holocaust literature by a younger self, Poland is a dark, menacing place, a land of terrible facts, its streets paved with the headstones culled from graves of the defenseless. A land fertilized with the ash of innocents. A malignant evil to be forgotten, but always remembered.

The indelible stigma stuck. If I were ever to journey to that land, it would be to reclaim a Jewish pride once lost by the downcast countenances of the Nazis’ dehumanized victims. Pride, I felt, that would be restored with an indignant stare at a neighbor who once stood idly by, saying with my speechless eyes more than a million spoken words.

But now I feel only the silence of the unwritten word. Rays of shining sun are splashing over our car, and in a freshly cut field a lone stork nibbles on leftovers from the recent harvest. A growing stink wafting through the window relays the smell of freshly laid fertilizer. I notice the decrepit roads of yesteryear quickly turning into the smooth highways we so take for granted in America.

In a rebuilt Warsaw, flashy Mercedes racing through the streets, buses a most awful shade of yellow. The Tower of Culture looms over the city’s skyline, a vapid and weird present from Comrade Stalin to the people of Poland, the ugly bastard child of a forgotten marriage. A funny communion of old and new can be seen on every street corner. New, brightly lit grocery stores with the unlikely sight of babushkas selling sad bunches of wilted scallions and bouquets of summer flowers in their doorways. Sleek 18-wheeler milk trucks stopped dead in their tracks by a lone milking cow slowly trudging across the road.

And so I found myself walking through Sieradz, my grandmother’s town, a town found only by a most circuitous route from Warsaw, oh so calmly.

Our translator “shibbitzed” (a term coined in light of the prevalent “shibing” that is found in just about every Polish word) with an older couple, lounging on a lazy Sunday afternoon with family. “You want to talk with the old man up the road, he remembers the Nazis,” the husband says.

I strained to understand the quick chatter between the translator and the old man. Spittle flying from his mouth and a lone tooth had me fixated. “When they came, the Jews were quickly herded into a small ghetto; no communication or trade was allowed.” Though interesting, the story of ghettoization was one I’d heard many times.

But then, swallowing hard, he began tell the story of the final Aktion (“operation”). “We weren’t all bad, we tried to help.” A small gasp, a trickle of a tear. “The red church you saw in the middle of town had its doors locked, all of Sieradz’s Jews crammed inside.” Wiping his finger across his nose, as tears streamed more steadily down his face. “The doors were locked for two weeks, screams and cries of thirst haunting the whole town. When they finally opened the door a stench spewed from inside, feces and dead bodies sprawled about in a cadence of horror. But slowly and unbelievably, a child staggered out, his face pallid and white, the face of death.” By now the old man’s face was a wet mess as he wept the horrible memory. “A SS man nonchalantly walked up to the child, and grabbing him by his legs, flung him onto the street in the path of a passing army jeep.”

Parched wind pushed loudly through the car’s open window, draining whatever remained of the day’s energies, as I thought over the day’s experiences. Realizing, slowly, that I did not need to look upon Bubby’s neighbors with righteous indignation, as the burning shame of passivity was alive and well, sixty years later, without my stare. Crystallizing slowly over time has been the singular obligation of telling the story of that child’s last moments. Though not dissimilar to the ending of the rest of the six million, every record is a truth, and I doubt that this nameless child has been remembered since his horrible death. May this record be his kaddish.

Yosef Lewis is currently a student at the Rabbinical College of America. He has previously studied in France and Israel and spent the last year as an exchange student in Vancouver, Canada.
Illustration: Detail from a painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman.
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Anonymous NY, NY May 16, 2011

One Child Remembered It's the way we humans are. We can feel for one child, but it's harder to feel for 6 million.

The Nazis killed only one person -- the one you love. Reply

Anonymous Mesa, Arizona, USA May 11, 2011

One Child Remembered As I read this sad story, it crossess my mind of the stories of the inquisition in spain and all over the ottoman empire. The Anusim. My people. The Sephardim. I never knew. Brought up by a false religion, which buttchered my ancestors in cold blood. I have felt the paint in my heart and soul all my life, and did not know what was the cause, until my 63rd year of life. All I can feel is disgust. Can anyone explain to me where this hatred comes from? Can anyone have an idea how some human beings are capable of committing such atrocities to one another? I just cannot understand. Not even the wildest animal commit such horrendous crimes to one another. Reply

Anonymous Houston, TX May 6, 2011

a child's klast kaddish -----foer those who were also treated that way, those awaiting birth Reply

hadassa melbourne, australia via elwoodshule.org May 5, 2011

one child I was in Poland about five years ago, and also came across old people who had witnessed the atrocities during the Nazi years. None was overcome with emotion when describing the horrors like the old man in this account. I believe the majority of Poles are more than happy to be rid of their former Jewish neighbours, and continue to harbour feelings of resentment and antisemitism against the Jews. One can count on the fingers of one hand, so to speak, the number of Poles who helped Jews. But there were many thousands of Poles who denounced Jews to the Nazis, and watched the terrible consequences of their treachery with great satisfaction, to say the least. Reply

Anonymous seabrook, tx/usa May 4, 2011

Who i to blame? It is an easy question to answer if one does so without thinking. It is so easy to blame the other becasue they are different andnot us. For those of us who experienced, some if only vicariously, the SShoa, the answer seems obvious. Thetruth is that we are all to blame because we are mankind. Two men proved this in the 1960s, Stanley Milgram at Harvard University and Phil Zimbardo at Stanford University. Each proved in two studies that the "different" are, jn essence, us. They were human as we are. The results were frightening. All mankind has the capacity to become the "them." We must continually remember and be on guard that we do not let circumsances affect our ethics. Reply

Sharon Frant Brooks Lebanon, NJ May 3, 2011

remembering When I went to my dad's "Lost community" of Dubiecko, Poland. A woman kept coming up to me crying, the town people all commenting on her wild blue eyes, and saying things to me in Polish. This town never faced its past either - "silent memory" as one woman told me. finally it was translated for me that her brother, then 5 years old was shot by Nazi soldiers just for being on the streets. She had her personal catharsis when we, the remnants of the Jews, came to put up a memorial to our lost ones. It moved me powerfully. Reply

daniel October 19, 2007

So because one old man felt bad about the attrocities committed the whole nation of people who stood idly by should be exonerated? I was in Poland a few years ago and I was not the one giving the horrible stares, I was receiving them. From my perspective their still remains a tremendous amount of bitterness and anti-semitism in that horrible country and one man's saddness should not be attributed to all. May the child and all victims of the holocaust be remembered with bracha. Reply

Wolf Sklar Huntsville, Alabama October 19, 2007

Did the old man tell you the year and date that this happened? We could actually say kaddish for the child, even not knowing his name, if we knew the right day to say it.

Knowing the date on the Roman calendar, we could determine the date on the Hebrew calendar.

Warum ist diese auf deutsch? Reply

Isabel Mercado Weslaco, Texas October 16, 2007

A Child Remembered As I read this sad story, I, too, said Kaddish for the young child. I forwarded the story to a few of my friends who do not know very much about the Holocaust. Some of the new history books that will be used in schools are omitting the Holocaust story because it "might not have ever happened." I tell my two children that whenever they have a project for a class in their school, to make sure it is something about the Holocaust because this is one event that people should NEVER forget. Everyone should know what happened!! Reply

Anonymous October 16, 2007

Thank you for this story.

And thank you for this kaddish.

Is it not all spiritual pride that kills? And innocence alone that deserve G-d's mercy? Reply

Kreina Staal Montreal, Canada October 15, 2007

A Generation Remembered How horrible, terrible and sad. Our, my, only consolation upon hearing such stories is to remind myself that although we are crushed again and again by accounts of the Holocaust, these victims have long ago passed on to Heaven and have enjoyed Gan Eden ever since their horrible deaths took place. May their memories be a blessing - zichronam l'vracha. Reply

R Grayson Miami, FL, USA October 15, 2007

Amayn! I will never forget. Reply

sara florida, united states October 15, 2007

Holocaust i have read about the holocaust. im very sad that many jews had to suffer the pain and ageny. one of my heroes is Anne Frank. i love her. in 5th grade we read a story about her. she is so awsome. one day i want to live up to her reputation. Reply

Anonymous Long Beach, CA October 15, 2007

One child, Remembered I wish I knew...my mother and her family came from Poland around 1906. Her family had operated a dairy, producing butter, and cheeses from cream which they had purchased. Their shtetle was near Warsaw. The farm was burned down (how or why???) and the family came to the US. I never asked, and now no one is left to ask how or why. It might've been the same town, but my family left before the holocaust. Reply

Tiffany Giff UK October 15, 2007

Coincidence, much? I have just arrived back from Poland, on a 4 day trip with a Jewish organisation, and this email was in my inbox.

What a coincidence/luck/fate/chance/intervention. Reply

Elizabeth via chabadofbakersfield.com October 14, 2007

Reminder of daily atrocities in our lives As I read the above article and the present day man-made glories of the streets in Western and Eastern European bloc, bustling with activities, my thoughts recalled the proverb: "One man's loss is another man's gain." There is a metaphor in Shakespeare's Hamlet, "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries."

Doubtless, the overwhelming evil is preposterous! We should never forget the heart wrenching stories of the holocaust, because it is a reminder to every one of us that 'evil can triumph when good men do nothing about it. '

Today, the evil has many facets; some are subtle and others directly pointed at, for instance, when a fellow brother robs you, lies about you, partners with those who hate you and use you, slanders you without evidence, takes pleasure in the downfall of others, an autocratic spirit that only thinks about itself, is to me an atrocities unmerited.

This article should be a daily reminder so we can treat others justly the way we want others to be treated. Reply

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